Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Paris Morgue Revisited

After writing a post last month on Parisian Morgue culture in the 19th Century, I came upon Vanessa R. Schwartz's wonderful book Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris.The book came up repeatedly in my google searches, and was also recommended by a Morbid Anatomy reader (thanks AH!) It features an entire chapter devoted to the topic of morgues as popular amusement and tourist attraction, a portion of which I quoted in my lecture for Anatomcial Theatre. Following is the portion I quoted; Image: Paris Morgue in 1883, via blog Squirm.
...the morgue transformed the banality everyday life by spectacularizing it. To us, looking at dead bodies seems at best an exercise in morbid curiosity. And some of the late nineteenth-century Parisian press did consider the attraction rather morbid. Yet, as cultural critic Jay Ruby argued [in his book Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America] , assuming morbidity as the impulse to represent death merely reflects "our culturally encouraged need to deny death." In fact, although the morgue clearly displayed dead bodies, the discussion of the popularity of public visits to the Paris Morgue generally placed it outside the death-related and morbid topics of its day: cemeteries, slaughterhouses and executions. Instead, the morgue was characterized as "part of the cataloged curiosities of things to see, under the same heading as the Eiffel Tower,Yvete Guilbert, and the Catacombs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads-up! I'm doing research on the Victorian novelist Marie Corelli and her book of Absinthe addiction- The Paris Morgue is a large part of the novel---